Christmas cheer has certainly been in the air of our rehearsal room this week. With Singing Trees, Elves, and Angels. Northern Opera Group organised our rehearsals to take place at the Yorkshire College of Music and Drama. This venue is a great space for rehearsals as it has been converted into different sized practice rooms. We rehearse in a large studio that hosts a lovely grand piano and plenty of space for staging the drama.
‘Christmas Elf’ involves both spoken dialogue and music and I have had a lot of fun working with my colleagues to tell the story.
To finish off our first week of rehearsals, today we are blocking the finale with the wonderful Community Chorus who completes our company.
During a little bit of downtime yesterday, I visited Harewood house’s Christmas attraction: ‘A Night at the Mansion’. It was extremely magical and full of Festive cheer, tinsel, and finely decorated Christmas trees.
I don’t want to give away too much about the experience, but I will explain that the concept was inspired by the Hit-Movie franchise ‘Night at the Museum’ starring Ben Stiller and Robin Williams. It is after hours, the doors are shut, and no humans in sight, so the statues, paintings, and household objects come alive! (using a little bit of Christmas magic).
There are even little characters similar in size to the ‘Borrowers’ which took me straight to my childhood, searching for them in cupboards. It also made me reminisce about the times I went looking for dragons and fairies in the forests and mountain valleys of North Wales with my Mum, Dad, and brothers.
Here is their trailer to give you a sneak peek!
I thoroughly recommend a visit to the attraction if you are in the Leeds area over the Christmas period. Next Saturday (21st December) If you fancy a real Christmas treat perhaps you can visit Harewood House during the day and then come along to our performance of The Christmas Elf in the evening. What a way to start your Christmas off, I am sure that you will go home with a huge smile on your face full of Christmas cheer and delight!
I am on my way to Leeds today to start rehearsals for The Christmas Elf. It should be about a four-hour drive but often it can take an extra hour getting through London to the M1 Motorway. So I thought I would pre-empt the traffic and write my blog post this morning ready to launch when I arrive this evening.
This week I had the good fortune to be invited to two fantastic events. On Wednesday I went with friends to the Barbican to watch The Taming of the Shrew. . It was a Royal Shakespeare Company production which presented the audience with a really thought-provoking interpretation of this problematic Comedy. Director Justin Audibert switched the roles so that the play is gender-flipped by regendering all the pronouns. For example, the story’s protagonist Petruchio, (who is a fortune seeker who intends to marry the troublesome eldest daughter Katherine), becomes Petruchia. Claire Price presents a powerful interpretation of this role, hiding her venomous qualities behind charm and swagger.
Whilst the play unfolds, I suddenly realised how few lines the “female” roles of Bianco (Bianca) and Katherine have, despite me thinking that the play was about containing their wild spirits. It is only now that I realise that the center of the play focuses not on the prey but on the hunter. It became quickly uncomfortable, because even though the roles are now reversed to give the comedy a hint of female empowerment the general advocacy of dominance through psychological and physical manipulation is still present. Perhaps this is the message that the director was trying to put forward.
However there were many laughs had by all. A highlight for me was from Sophie Stanton’s giggle-inducing interpretation of a lovestruck Gremia who glides like a nymph in a Christmas ballet across the stage to swoon and salivate over a hair-flicking Bianco whose temperament was similar to a high school prom queen. It is interesting how through comedy we can shine a light on bitter truths and issues and how through laughter we can safely start an honest conversation.
On Friday I celebrated my friend’s birthday by attending a concert with him at the Wigmore Hall. There were three outstanding musicians Andrei Ioniţă cello; Stephen Hough piano and Michael Collins clarinet. The concert was part of the ‘Brahms series’ held at the Wigmore Hall to celebrate this composers prodigious amount of compositions specifically crafted for chamber music, song, and piano. I particularly enjoyed the 5 Stücke im Volkston Op. 102 by Schumann played masterfully by Ioniţă and Hough. It was also interesting to be exposed to a new composer, Carl Frühling and his exciting Clarinet Trio Op. 40. The music was very rich in melody, which was shared across the instruments. The harmony was very lush and late romantic in style but at times very non-intuitive which made it exciting for the listener. I have recently noticed a pattern of this whilst studying the Christmas Elf, which so happens to be composed by Pfitzner, who is a contemporary of Frühling. I found it really rewarding to hear this trio as it gave me inspiration and a better understanding of the German late Romantics, which I can use as I begin rehearsals tomorrow.
Today marks the first day of December and soon I will begin rehearsals for the Christmas Elf with Northern Opera Group in Leeds. With this in mind I thought I would share with you how I prepare and learn a new role.
After receiving the music I try to read the libretto (sung text) to get an idea of the overall story. This helps me to understand my character’s arc, their basic relationships with others, how people discuss and describe them and their key moments in the production.
If I am working on a piece that is in a different language to my own. I will take time to translate the libretto. This can be quite a time-consuming task. I aim to source/create a word-for-word translation. I often consult Nico Castel’s libretti Series, which can be found in music libraries such as at the Royal College of Music. This series contains a word-for-word translation, a phonetic translation and a poetic translation.
This series often helps speed up the process but I try to cross-reference with a dictionary to make sure I really understand what is being said and how it progresses the action of the story.
For each role, I often have a different time scale as I have to juggle all the projects that I have on the go along with other personal tasks so I try to work out a schedule for my learning. I try to break up the role, so as opposed to one big task I have several smaller goals. I use post-it notes to show different Acts, Scenes, and dialogue. If I am working on an opera by Mozart or Handel I will use different colours to differentiate between Recitatives, Arias, Duets , small ensembles, and Finales. These sections then make the overall task more approachable and easier to schedule.
I will then highlight my text and the music. Whilst I am doing this I create a list of the pieces that I am in, I acknowledge if there are any moments of tricky coloratura and harmonies as I personally make them a priority when scheduling in time for memorising. I always like to learn the first entry at the start and then move on towards the more difficult areas as I like to have a small victory to keep my motivation simmering.
After some careful planning, I will work out when to
schedule singing lessons and coachings, so that I can work on the role with my
teachers who know my long term goals or coaches who have expertise in a particular
language or period of music.
I will then sit down with my score at the piano and note-bash, and learn the melody methodically. Sometimes I create learning tracks that I can use whilst travelling on the tube, or in between singing practise.
Then with my schedule set, I make sure that I keep to it and with my fingers crossed and hope that nothing unforeseen turns up. Once I have the music underway I then have to start work on learning the words. But I will save how I do that for another time 🙂
To close the year, I will be performing as a Christmas Elf, but not with a bubble gun outside Hamleys on Regent Street, but as part of a production with The Northern Opera Group. Their Christmas production of Hans Pfitzner’s opera Das Christ-Elflein (The Christmas Elf), will be sung in English using a translation by Ben Crick and Nicola Whatmuff. I am thrilled to be a part of the opera and will be taking on the role of Elflein (The Christmas Elf).
This opera was new to me and for anyone else unfamiliar with the story it is based on a children’s fairy tale. It tells the story of an encounter on Christmas Eve between a local Christian family and Pagan characters, from German Folkore. Scroll down this post and sprinkle some fairy dust to find a more detailed synopsis.
The music composed by Hans Pfitzner to a German libretto by Pfitzner and Ilse von Stach was originally premiered in 1906. It was later revised by the composer into a two-act opera which premiered in Dresden on 11 December 1917
During the summer of 1917 Pfitzner revised the work as a two-act Spieloper (comic opera). He shortened the play by adapting some of the speaking and silent roles into ones for singers. The revised version continues to be performed occasionally in German-speaking countries and I can’t wait to be a part of this English adaptation in Leeds at Christmas. The opera will be directed by Davis Ward under the baton of conductor Ben Crick. Illustrator Sophia Watts has been commissioned to create some amazing images to accompany the opera and I cant wait to see them.
A forest in midwinter
Elflein, a little elf living in the forest, asks his friend Tannengreis, an old tree spirit, why humans ring bells and sing at Christmas and what it all means. Tannengreis expresses his dislike and mistrust of humans. Frieder appears in the forest on his way to the village doctor. His sister Trautchen is dying and he no longer believes in God. He tells the elf that he too has no time for his questions about Christmas.
Franz and Jochen, servants of Frieder and Trautchen’s father, enter the forest to cut down a Christmas tree and end up having an encounter with Knecht Ruprecht whom they initially assume is a toy seller and then a warlock.
The Christ Child appears and announces that he will bring Trautchen the Christmas tree this year. Elflein is fascinated by him, but Tannengreis warns him to stay away from humans and their religion. After a dance by young men and forest maidens prevents the servants from cutting down a tree, angels appear to announce that it is Christmas Eve, a holy night. The Christ Child leaves for the von Gumpach house. Elflein goes with him.
The von Gumpach house on Christmas Eve
Herr von Gumpach scolds Franz and Jochen for not having returned with a Christmas tree. They protest that they have seen the living Christ Child, but he doesn’t believe them and Frieder openly mocks them. Tannengreis comes looking for the little elf and is hidden behind the stove by Frieder. Trautchen is brought into the room, and Knecht Ruprecht arrives with village children to explain the tradition of the Christmas tree.
The Christ Child appears with the little elf bringing the tree for Trautchen but tells everyone that he has also come to bring the sick child to heaven. The elf takes pity on Trautchen and offers to take her place. The Christ Child agrees, grants the elf a soul, and gives permission for him to come back to earth every Christmas to visit Tannengreis. His new name will be “Christ-Elflein” (Christ’s Little Elf).
Christ-Elflein is brought up to heaven by the angels. Trautchen is cured, Frieder regains his belief in God, and Tannengreis is reconciled to humans. All present join in the Christmas celebrations.
There will be two performances on Saturday 21st December at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm at the Northern Ballet Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Quarry Hill, Leeds, LS2 7PA. You can get tickets here :
If you live in the Leeds area and want to take part come and join in on 18 November at 7:15pm to sing in the chorus of the Christmas Elf. The first rehearsal will be at the Quaker Meeting House at 188 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9DX.
Key things to note:
1) It costs NOTHING to take part! 2) You don’t need to have sung opera before and we don’t audition. 3) There will be rehearsals on the following dates:
Mon 18 November 7:15pm
Mon 25 November 7:15pm
Mon 2 December 7:15pm
Mon 9 December 7:15pm
Thur 19 December 6 – 9pm
Mon 16 Dec 7:15pm
Sun 15 Dec 2 – 6pm
Fri 20 December 6 – 10pm
Sat 21 December – Show Day 2pm and 7pm
Any questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org
My Autumn will be spent touring around England and you will be able to hear me sing in York, Stowe, Warrington, Stoke On Trent, Todmorden, Bamford, and Leeds.
Next up I will be performing the role of Pandora in ‘The Fire of Olympus’ in York with Radius Opera. We will be appearing at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre on the 12th of October at 7:30 pm. ( Tickets Here )
Then the following weekend I will be appearing as Juliet alongside William Branston as Romeo in Arcadian Opera’s production of Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet at the Roxburgh Theatre, Stowe. ( Tickets Here ) Performances are at 7:30 pm 19th October and 3:00 pm 20th October.
Following Romeo & Juliet, I will be performing with pianist George Todica in a lunchtime recital at the Bold Street Methodist Church, 4 Palmyra Square N, Warrington on 26th October.
One of the highlights for me will be performing the role of Pandora in Stoke on Trent at 7:30 pm on Wednesday 30th October at the Repertory Theatre as my Grand Parents and their friends will be in the audience to watch. ( Tickets Here )
My last performance in the role of Pandora for Radius Opera will be at 7:30 pm on Saturday 9th November at the Todmorden Hippodrome, Todmorden. ( Tickets Here ) Although there will be a screening of the film of the opera that Tim Benjamin produced and directed that was so much fun to be a part of. The premiere will be at the Leeds International Film Festival at 7:30 pm on 16th November 2019 ( Tickets Here )
I have another lunchtime recital with pianist George Todica at the Bamford Chapel and Norden United Reformed Church at 1:00 pm on the 12th of November.